First Round Game Analysis: Friday AfternoonPosted by rtmsf on March 17th, 2010
Over the next two days in a series of separate posts, RTC will break down all 32 of the first round games using our best analytical efforts to understand these teams, the matchups and their individual strengths and weaknesses. Our hope is that you’ll let us know in the comments where you agree, disagree or otherwise think we’ve lost our collective minds. Here are the Friday afternoon games.
12:15 pm – #2 West Virginia vs. #15 Morgan State (Buffalo pod)
West Virginia enters the NCAA Tournament as one of the hottest teams in the nation. They squeaked out an enormous road win at Villanova to end the regular season then swept through Cincinnati, Notre Dame and Georgetown en route to a Big East championship riding the heroics of Da’Sean Butler. The Mountaineers are an extremely gifted rebounding team; in fact, sometimes their best offense comes after a missed shot. They feature multiple weapons that can step out and shoot a mid-range jumper or three from Wellington Smith to Kevin Jones to the all-around dynamo Butler. Also, few teams can match West Virginia’s intensity in the halfcourt defensively. Morgan State head coach Todd Bozeman will need a gigantic scoring output from their own star, Baltimore native Reggie Holmes. Holmes scored 25 or more points fifteen times this season, averaging 21.3 PPG and ranking in the top-50 in percentage of shots taken. The Bears also feature a rugged forward named Kevin Thompson who comes in at fifth in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage. In fact, Morgan State ranks 11th in the country as a team in that very category. Unfortunately for the underdogs, West Virginia is never outworked on the glass, not with Jones, Devin Ebanks and Bob Huggins prominently involved.
The Skinny: This one shouldn’t be close from the tip. Morgan State dominated the MEAC all season, but West Virginia is flying high at this point. Expect the Mountaineers to dominate by 25-30 points.
12:25 pm – #6 Xavier vs. #11 Minnesota (Milwaukee pod)
The answer to which team will win this game depends entirely on which Gopher team shows up to play in Milwaukee. Will it be the defensive juggernaut that held Purdue to 11 first half points last Saturday, or will it be the team that got obliterated by Ohio State 52-29 in the second half on Sunday? Tubby Smith’s team has been schizophrenic like that all year, following up strong wins with disastrous performances (two losses to Michigan? really?), which probably explains why they were a bubble team up until Sunday evening. Xavier comes into this one with the stronger resume, but it’s difficult to say if the Musketeers are the better team. When he plays under control, XU’s Jordan Crawford is a talent, and his supporting case of Jason Love on the interior and Terrell Holloway running the show makes for nice balance throughout the Xavier lineup. The question we have is who will win the defensive battle, though. Xavier defends the three really well, while Minnesota behind Blake Hoffarber and Lawrence Westbrook both shoot it equally as well. This game is essentially a tossup (Vegas agrees, setting Minny as a one-point favorite), and we really liked the first seven halves of basketball that the Gophers put up in Indianapolis on a neutral floor last week, so we’re going with the extremely mild 6/11 upset here, in a close game that comes down to the last possession.
The Skinny: Despite the seedings, this is a tossup game and we like the Gophers to win it on the last possession.
12:30 pm – #5 Temple vs. #12 Cornell (Jacksonville pod)
This is the most compelling first round game on the docket for a variety of reasons: 1) Temple’s strength is defending the three (second in the nation in 3-pt FG defense) and Cornell’s strength is shooting the three (first in the nation in 3-pt percentage at almost 44%). The Owls are the Atlantic 10 regular season and conference tournament champions that run the third most efficient defense in the country and hold opponents to just a 42% eFG%, tops of any squad in the tournament. Cornell, by contrast, sports the 28th most efficient offensive attack and ranks third in effective FG%. Which team imposes their philosophy will come out on top in the most intriguing matchup of the East Region and of any of the 5/12 matchups on the board this tournament. Both squads feature their own version of the Big Three — Juan Fernandez, Lavoy Allen and Ryan Brooks for Temple, Jeff Foote, Ryan Wittman and Louis Dale for Cornell. Fernandez and Wittman are the most important players for Fran Dunphy and Steve Donahue, respectively. Fernandez is a tremendous sophomore shooter at 42% FG, 46% 3FG and 85% from the charity stripe. Wittman is equally as impressive, entering Friday’s duel at 47% FG, 42% 3FG and 86% FT. To add more fuel to the fire, Dunphy was the mentor to Donahue during their time at Penn.
The Skinny: We expect Cornell to knock down enough threes to pull out a close victory. Look for a low scoring game with Wittman’s hot shooting stroke proving the difference.
2:30 pm – #4 Purdue vs. #13 Siena (Spokane pod)
Quite possibly the marquee “Cinderella” upset game. Some writers are trying to go against the tide of public sentiment by picking the Boilermakers to pull off the “upset.” (Yes. They are saying a #4 winning over a #13 would be an upset.) The reason for picking Siena to win is quite simple for most people filling out their brackets. Purdue is not the same team without Robbie Hummel and Siena has won its first round game two years in a row (first against Ohio State as a #9 seed and then against Vanderbilt as a #13 seed–the same situation they will be on Friday night). That’s looking at this game too simply. Sure the Boilermakers looked awful in the first half against Minnesota in the Big Ten Tournament. Ok, awful might be an understatement. Scoring 11 points in a half where the other team (and not a very good other team) scores 37 points is Washington Generals-like. Still this team has three players that would get major minutes on any team in the country in E’Twaun Moore, JaJuan Johnson and Chris Kramer. They could also have Lewis Jackson who has missed a considerable amount of time this year and remains a game-time decision. The Saints seem to be the popular pick, but despite their experience we would be remiss in failing to note the fact that they don’t have a single impressive win yet this year. Still they have the ability with an impressive combination of power on the inside (Alex Franklin and Ryan Rossiter) and skill on the outside (Edwin Ubiles and Clarence Jackson). The key to this game will most likely be the battle on the inside and whether or not JaJuan Johnson is willing to battle down low with Rossiter. If Johnson decides to do so, he should have the length and strength to frustrate the Saints and giving Matt Painter’s crew a solid chance at advancing to the second round. If he doesn’t, Purdue could have a very short stay in the 2010 NCAA Tournament.
The Skinny: Purdue is not going to advance very far this year, but Moore, Johnson, and Kramer have too much pride to go out in their first game.
2:35 pm – #7 Clemson vs. #10 Missouri (Buffalo pod)
This is a dream matchup for folks that love full court press basketball in classic Nolan Richardson and Bruce Pearl fashion. The two teams best known for their versions of 40 Minutes of Hell were paired in what should be an electric, fast-paced, don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-something affair in Buffalo. For proof, Clemson and Missouri rank in the top-ten in the nation in steals and turnovers forced. They both rank in the top-15 in defensive efficiency largely due to an ability to create havoc, a large reason for repeated regular season success between the two programs. With Clemson, you’ll get to watch one of the most important players in the nation to his team in Trevor Booker. Without the efforts of Booker, Clemson would barely be a CBI team. The senior forward replicated a 15.3 PPG output from a year ago but saw his rebounding and FG% dip down a notch. He’s salivating at the thought of going against Missouri’s banged up frontline, though. Missouri will have to generate production from an up-and-down backcourt led by Kim English and Marcus Denmon, especially from behind the arc. Why I think Missouri could sneak this one out is 1) the game will rarely be played in the halfcourt, meaning Booker won’t be able to capitalize on the mismatch as often as hoped, and 2) Oliver Purnell is 0-4 in his NCAA Tournament coaching career.
The Skinny: Missouri pulls this one out behind the shooting efforts of English and Denmon. I’d stay away from relying on teams that depend so heavily on one player for their production.
2:45 pm – # 3 Pittsburgh vs. #14 Oakland (Milwaukee pod)
What worries us about this game with respect to Jamie Dixon’s Panthers is that they’re not a typically big team. In fact, Pitt’s best three players are all perimeter guys in Ashton Gibbs, Brad Wannamaker and Jermaine Dixon. As it happens, Oakland has one of the most talented unknown centers in the country in 6’11 Keith Benson, who comes in averaging 17/11/3 blks per game this year. More importantly, when he has faced BCS-level front lines earlier in the season, he’s done well, putting 21/11 on Michigan State and and 20/6/4 blks on Kansas, for example. Pitt’s Gary McGhee and Gilbert Brown will have their work cut out for them, but they’ve been undersized all year in the Big East and still managed to go 13-5 and come in second behind only Syracuse. The issue for Oakland, of course, will be dealing with the Pitt perimeter defense, which will cause problems with even getting the ball into Benson. For the upstart Summit League team to have any chance to pull off a major upset, they will have to get offensive production from guards Derick Nelson and Jonathan Jones. In blowout losses to Syracuse and Memphis in addition to the KU and MSU games mentioned above, Oakland was never able to get all three of its offensive threats clicking in tandem. Pitt has probably spent most of this season overachieving, but it’s unlikely that will catch up with them so early in this year’s tournament.
The Skinny: Oakland causes some problems with Pitt as the Panthers’ offense sputters in the first half, but they eventually pull away for a semi-comfortable ten-point victory.
2:50 pm – #4 Wisconsin vs. #13 Wofford (Jacksonville pod)
The lesson continues to be a simple one: Bo Ryan should never be doubted. Picked near the bottom of the Big 10, Ryan’s Badgers pulled off regular season wins over Duke, Purdue, Michigan State and Ohio State this season behind the efforts of strong guard play from Trevon Hughes, Jason Bohannon and Jordan Taylor and the improvement of 6’10 forward Jon Leuer. Ryan’s style of play and philosophy seem to equal success on an annual basis regardless of personnel loss and overhaul. The Badgers could receive a bit of a first round scare from Wofford (much like Texas A&M-Corpus Christi provided Wisconsin in a 2/15 game in 2007). The Terriers can play at a slower tempo in the halfcourt without panicking or getting frustrated. Wofford ranked 272nd in the nation in adjusted tempo this season, which is child’s play compared to the Badgers rank of 340th. Wisconsin does three things incredibly well: defend in the halfcourt, rarely turn the ball over on offense, and limit other team’s second chance opportunities. They could receive a bit of difficulty from one of the best mid-major players in the nation, though. Wofford’s Noah Dahlman has scored in double figures in each game this season and averages 17/8 on a steady 58% FG as a 6’7 forward. Regardless, it will be awfully challenging for the SoCon champs to match the three-headed monster at guard for Wisconsin.
The Skinny: The Badgers may let fired up Wofford hang around for awhile before ultimately pulling away in the second half. Seniors Hughes and Bohannon won’t let Wisconsin go down this early.
4:45 pm – #5 Texas A&M vs. #12 Utah State (Spokane pod)
This matchup of the Aggies is a classic 5/12 game with a good but not great BCS conference team against a solid mid-major that can shoot the lights out from beyond the arc (USU is second in the nation at 42.1%). Texas A&M will have the best player on the court with Donald Sloan (18.2 PPG), but they are a far different team than they would have been had Derrick Roland not suffered a horrific injury at Washington earlier this year. They are also dealing with a more recent injury as the status of Dash Harris, one of their best perimeter defenders, is still uncertain at this time. Outside of Sloan’s offensive brilliance Mark Turgeon’s squad does not have a lot of offensive firepower as nobody else on the current roster averages double figures and none of the regulars (including Sloan) shoots above 37% from 3-point range. Now compare that with Stew Morrill’s USU squad which has three players averaging double figures (Tai Wesley, Jared Quayle and Nate Bendall) and three other guys shooting over 42% from three, including Brian Green who is shooting a ridiculous 50% (52 of 104) for the year. If Texas A&M is going to join the long list of #5 seeds to lose their opening round game, they will need a strong performance from Sloan and great perimeter defense to limit the damage USU does from beyond the arc.
The Skinny: This game deserves serious consideration as one of your first round upsets. Look for the Aggies from Utah to advance here.